The Rural Wireless Association, Inc. (RWA) acknowledges that T-Mobile US, Inc. (T-Mobile) has formally announced that its merger with Sprint Corp. closed earlier today and also that Mike Sievert started his first day as President and Chief Executive Officer of the “New T-Mobile.” This announcement comes after U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly issued a Final Judgment wherein New T-Mobile agreed to dozens of conditions and divestiture orders in order to alleviate antitrust concerns initially raised by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). These legally-enforceable commitments contained in the Final Judgment are in addition to the many promises New T-Mobile has made to State Attorneys General (State AGs) and the Federal Communications Commission in order to gain their approval for allowing this merger to proceed. Interestingly, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) was still in the process of reviewing the merger when T-Mobile and Sprint filed a last-minute Joint Motion withdrawing its “Joint Application for Approval” currently sitting before CPUC. Indeed, T-Mobile informed CPUC that the companies “no longer require [CPUC] approval” and “seek to withdraw the Application as moot.” T-Mobile also insisted that CPUC “revise the proposed decision…and to proceed with a vote on a modified proposed decision to close the proceedings” in New T-Mobile’s favor. In short, New T-Mobile did not want to risk having CPUC block its merger so it created a legal situation whereby it could claim CPUC has no authority to even impose conditions on New T-Mobile. RWA genuinely wonders whether in the months or years to come whether New T-Mobile will re-apply to CPUC and seek designation as a certified public utility under California law.
New T-Mobile has made uncountable promises since the deal was first announced in Spring 2018. However, from a rural consumer perspective, the vast majority of New T-Mobile’s promises do not offer any type of rural coverage deployment commitments of substance. For nearly two years, RWA has warned that the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint would negatively impact rural coverage and especially rural consumers, and nothing in this proposed settlement has changed our opinion on the matter.
RWA hopes that the DOJ, FCC, State AGs, and various state public utilities commissions will enforce all of the promises and commitments offered or entered into by the New T-Mobile, and that they individually and collectively monitor the carrier’s progress month-by-month, quarter-by-quarter, and year-by-year. Every defender of competition, whether at the Federal, State, or Local level, should actively enforce any missed deadlines or failed commitments and impose financial or other penalties on New T-Mobile, if warranted. In the meantime, RWA will continue to monitor all of New T-Mobile’s rural coverage promises made since April 2018 – – promises that the carriers used to get FCC and DOJ approval of this merger – – and bring any deployment or coverage failures to the attention of regulators, antitrust officials, and lawmakers if they do not materialize.